There is no disputing the poetry of a well struck baseball off the barrel of a finely crafted wood bat. At times the pleasant crack it evokes can reverberate through a crowded ballpark. It seems to break out of your television and fill your living room. It is this display that allows baseball to build such a important place in the hearts of of Americans. That sweet, natural sound, today seems like yet another privilege of the upper echelon of baseball talent.
Baseball has a way of entrancing the conservative, the old school, the traditionalist; or maybe that's just what the game brings out in all of us - that inherent desire to connect with the past through the exercise of tradition and the consistent appreciation of the past. That is why many of the baseball “purists” cringe as the mechanical ping of baseballs off aluminum bats replaces the symphonic connection between rawhide and solid wood.
When is it time?
The question many young players and their parents continue to ask is, when is the appropriate time to begin using wood bats? There is no one answer to that question but you can utilize some strategies by players at all levels to make the transition to the wood bat game as seamless as possible while also improving performance with aluminum models. The majority of players will not play in competitive wooden bat leagues until they are well into their teenage years.
This timeline allows athletes to go through the natural stages of maturing and building strength so they can better handle the less-forgiving realities of hitting with wood over aluminum. Seeing as the timeline for the appropriate maturity is rather ambiguous and every young man or woman matures at a different rate, the decision to begin training with a wood bat is for the most part dependent on an individual’s ability and body type.
It is not inappropriate or reckless to begin training with wood at a young age. The drastic decrease in the margin for error and more cumbersome weight distribution teaches hitters how to make more consistent contact. Or, expose themselves to the unpleasant stinging sensation unique to mishits on a wooden bat. It will only take a few shots off the end or handle of the bat to make hitters realize the consequences of poorly struck baseballs.
Aluminum bats with their full metal compositions allow balls even off the hands to be supplied with sufficient force. This propels them to the outfield for the type of hit exclusive the aluminum bat game. While this type of base knock looks the same in the box score as a screaming line drive off the barrel, the type of swing mechanics it encourages and enforces can be detrimental in the long run. Using a wood bat, even if it is just in the batting cage or off the tee, can ingrain in a hitter’s mind the negatives of a mishit ball in order to promote more consistent contact.
Weight and Feel
Aside from the positive reinforcement, wood bats also have a very different weight and feel than do the aluminum models. Metal bats can be carefully shaved and calibrated to be incredibly lightweight and smooth through the zone. It is a very pleasant experience and one that creates incredible whip and force against the baseball. Because wood is subject to cracking and fractures, handles are often larger than those on aluminum bats for durability purposes. Wooden bats are subject to nature while manufactures do try to take out flaws, none can be completely devoid.
Wood bat's tend to have their weight focused more towards the barrel or handle. In the center can make for a longer, choppier swing. Consistent use of wooden bats can help a player better control and compact his or her swing. This creates a shorter, more powerful path to the ball. When a player goes back to aluminum after a few dozen swings with wood, the reduction in weight and significant increase in the sweet spot will provide a boost in confidence that hitters don’t get from simply swinging with a bat weight or donuts.
So the answer to the question, when is the appropriate time to start using wood bats? As soon as possible - as long as you are ready.